The world of Nentesh is isolated from the rest of the galactic community through an anomaly of space-time. Once every 26 years, there is “Ingress”, a wormhole that enables contact between the Nenteshi people and Outsystemers: contact that heralds a time for festival, trade, escape – and revenge.
I have read Jessica Reisman’s short stories, so I knew to expect detail bordering on the microscopic: this is an author who can describe a flower and make it mythic. At novel length, her writing reveals a world so holistically imagined that I felt a genuine sense of having travelled there. I came to taste the differences of culture, hear the cadence of diverging languages and to know a group of people unwittingly entwined in one woman’s secret – hidden until Ingress opened a door to the past.
If unfamiliar names and detailed narratives piss you off, then this is not the book for you. On the other hand, the study of people, language and culture are also sciences, and this is science fiction…with nuance.
Reisman’s characters are not great heroes; they are flawed people who care deeply about each other. In this story, each relationship exists in a state of entanglement – as with quantum particles – they are intrinsically linked. Their challenge is to grow, in self-awareness and understanding; to love, and forgive – and accept.
First we meet young Aren, earning a living as a courier – the pick-up-and-drop-off-and-don’t-ask-questions type. Bad weather and the sudden appearance of a goat causes him to crash. The old herbalist, from whom he was collecting an unnamed substance, doses him with a remedy for his hurts, unwittingly triggering a reaction that has profound repercussions on his psyche.
Then there is Swan – the troubled immigrant, who settled on Nentesh in the previous Ingress and has had 26 years to plan revenge – a plan that is about to unravel to reveal her deepest secret.
Excluded and troubled by Swan’s pre-occupation, is her lover, Ula, a young woman shaped by a tribal culture from which she sought escape; a culture that is itself an adaption to a world emerging from the terra-forming process.
Woven through this thread of relationships are characters such as young Ninuel – the rebellious child of one of the First Families, teenage dabbler in psychotropics, including Z, a drug with dream-enhancing properties:“The Z set up pathways in your neurons, made connections, facilitated dreams. Things manifested. Once you set up a pattern, it could be always the same thing: lost friend, imaged love, a place, a time, a color, a memory. Ninuel had her pattern – for her the Z brought always the same thing … a white dog, eyes the luminous fragile color of dusk-purple flowers.”
And there is Ismenor and his twisted little family, who arrive on Nentesh to take what Swan has so carefully hidden.
If you enjoy your Science Fiction with scope and vision, then you’ll enjoy The Z-Radiant. This is Jessica Reisman’s debut novel, and it has so much potential: wonderfully envisaged, thought-provoking and intelligent, that I hope she one day returns to expand upon it.
Fortunately for us, RevolutionSF has published “Brilliance“, one of her short stories set in this universe, online. Enjoy!